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Neuro Notes

Sometimes it’s better to just say something ….

Like everyone else, I was anxious to see Tracy Morgan’s first interview since his accident. As you may recall, the comedian, famous for his role on “30 Rock”, was seriously injured in a crash in June of 2014. He recently sat down for the first time since his injury for an interview with the Today’s Matt Lauer.

At the time of the crash, I was certain he had sustained a traumatic brain injury. However, I waited and waited … for months all the news reports talked about were his physical injuries, which were significant.  I had not heard a word about a brain injury. As a nurse who has worked in the field of acquired brain injury for nearly 30 years, I knew that he could not have emerged from a crash of that magnitude without sustaining an injury to his brain. What I figured was that those around him did not want that fact mentioned. At some level, I totally understand that.   I’ve seen it many times – those who sustain a brain injury may feel it will affect peoples’ perception of them or their ability to perform their jobs. (How many football players say nothing when they know they’ve had a concussion and just play through so it won’t affect their future in football?)  Public misconception of acquired brain injury is well documented – people believe that there is a recovery period and then the person returns to the way they were. Those misconceptions are fueled by the media images and information about brain injury that is more often wrong than right. In addition, healthcare professionals, who do not work in the field of brain injury, may often hold those misconceptions too.

There is an oft-repeated phrase among brain injury professionals: if you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury. While one may certainly draw some generalizations regarding physical and cognitive functions after a brain injury, each injury manifests itself uniquely in each individual. It may be physical paralysis and/or weakness, balance and coordination problems, speech and language deficits, memory problems, emotional issues and other personality disorders… the list goes on. A person with a brain injury can have one or more of a host of deficits which significantly affect their ability to work and reintegrate into their families and communities. Recovery times and paths vary considerably from person to person.

I do not know Tracy Morgan. Like most people, I have just seen him on TV.   Considering his profession as a comedian, however, I suspect he will have a long road ahead of him in his goal of returning to his previous occupation. Comedy requires a high degree of cognitive ability and, while I’m sure he’s getting the best care possible, I know it won’t be easy. That may explain why acknowledging his brain injury was so delayed.   As I watched him tell his story, it was hard not to be struck with great compassion for what he’s been through. I know the road he’s been on, both for he and his loved ones, has been extremely difficult. I was not surprised by his very emotional responses during the interview –increased emotional intensity and dyscontrol is frequently seen after a brain injury.  Reading the comments of people on the internet to that interview, however, demonstrates to me that many still exhibit incredible lack of understanding and knowledge regarding brain injury.   I was particularly struck by how many people talked of money (the WalMart settlement). The responses indicated that people thought he was going to be living a happy life on easy street. Anyone who knows brain injury, knows that no amount of money in the world can even begin to replace what this man has lost. I am certain he would trade whatever he received to get his previous life back.

Tracy Morgan, and the more than 5.3 million children and adults who live in the U.S. with a lifelong disability related to brain injury, deserve our understanding and support. I applaud his courage in speaking out. I hope and pray that Mr. Morgan is able to return to the stage.

I believe we as brain injury professionals continue to have a great deal of work ahead of us in helping the public understand the complexities of this type of injury.  We must encourage those affected by brain injury to feel comfortable with talking about what’s happened to them – and educate and encourage others around them to listen and learn. I believe it’s better to say something and get the help and support you need early on.

The Nolan Law Group, in association with the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, is committed to public education regarding acquired brain injury. If you would like to schedule an information session for your community group, or if you have any questions, please contact me at gml@nolan-law.com.   For further information on brain injury and brain injury support groups visit www.biail.org.

Nolan Law Group Hosts The Annual Board of Directors/Strategic Planning Meeting


(Pictured L-R back row: Ira Sherwin, Ginny Lazzara, Gregory O’Shanick, Sheldon Herring, Daniel Chamberlain, Donald Nolan, Mark Ashley.  Front Row L-R: Marie Cavallo, Susan Connors, Brent Masel and Philicia L. Deckard)

(Pictured L-R back row: Ira Sherwin, Ginny Lazzara, Gregory O’Shanick, Sheldon Herring, Daniel Chamberlain, Donald Nolan, Mark Ashley. Front Row L-R: Marie Cavallo, Susan Connors, Brent Masel and Philicia L. Deckard)


The Nolan Law Group recently hosted the annual Board of Directors/Strategic Planning Meeting for the Brain Injury Association of America. We welcomed the distinguished members of the Board from all over the country for this two day meeting. The Brain Injury Association of America, as part of its commitment to advance research, announced this summer that they have awarded a grant to the Brain Injury Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in NY to lead a three-year investigation to develop Guidelines for the Rehabilitation and Disease Management of Adults with Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury. The Brain Injury Association of Illinois is a proud affiliate of the national organization. For further information go to www.biausa.org

We are also proud to announce that NLG attorney, Thomas P. Routh, will be a keynote speaker along with Jonathan Costa, M.D. Ph.D. of the Center for Spine, Joint and Neuromuscular Rehabilitation in Nashville, Tennessee, at the Brain Injury Association of Illinois 2014 Educational Conference. This conference will be held at the Drury Lane Conference Center in Oak Brook, IL on October 24-25, 2014. Their topic: Current Applications of Medications for Cognitive Issues and Chronic Pain. They presented a very well-received break-out session at last year’s conference and were invited to keynote this year. Dr. Costa is the former Director of the Brain Injury Program at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital in Chicago and most recently of Psychophysical Rehabilitation & Recovery in Hershey, PA. Tom Routh and Dr. Costa have worked together for a number of years serving our clients and their perspectives on this timely topic (medical and legal, disability) promises to be very informative. Other featured keynote speakers include: Dr. Joan Murphy of Little Company of Mary Hospital, Dr Nenad Brkic of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Dr. James Young, Rehab Associates of Chicago, Rush University Medical Center, Dr. Patrick Walsh of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, Dr. Joseph Troiani of the Adler School of Psychology, and Brett Wolf of Brett Wolf Menomonee Judo Club of Chicago. Please join us for what promises to be another great conference. To register and for further information go to www.biail.org or you may contact me here at the Nolan Law Group: gml@nolan-law.com.

Just another note: We are happy to announce that the Brett Wolf Menomonee Judo Club and the Brain Injury Association of Illinois will continue the judo program for persons with acquired brain injury and veterans with disabilities. If you are interested, please contact Sensei Brett at 773-230-6070.



(Pictured from L-R: Ryan Nolan, Daniel Nolan, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Lauren Jiggetts)[/caption]

Congratulations to Nolan Law Group’s, Daniel Nolan, who chaired the 20th Annual Brain Injury Association of Illinois Golf Outing and Dinner held in July at the Glen Club in Glenview, IL. Dan is also a member of the Professional Advisory Committee of the Brain Injury Association of Illinois. Along with Brain Injury Association of Illinois Board Member and former Chicago Bear, Hunter Hillenmeyer, these two managed to pull off an amazing and very successful event. (They are also both Vanderbilt grads!) NLG’s Ryan Nolan (currently at Vanderbilt) also generously served on the golf committee. A big thank-you to NBC5 reporter and anchor, Lauren Jiggetts, again joining BIAIL as the Honorary Host of the event. Lauren is a member of the newly-formed BIAIL Professional Advisory Board and has been a wonderful supporter of the brain injury community. Joining the golfers on the links was former Chicago Bear and member of the ’85 Champion Super Bowl Team, Mike Richardson. The proceeds from this event fund the programs and services of the Brain Injury Association of Illinois. Nolan Law Group has been a long-time supporter of the mission and goals of BIAIL. Serving our clients well also means making sure our clients are served well in every arena – including supporting an organization like BIAIL who is dedicated to enhancing their lives. In addition to information and resources, BIAIL’s programs include prevention, advocacy, education, and research. We are also very proud of NLG attorney, Thomas P. Routh, who was recently elected to the Board of Directors for this organization. Tom has been active in BIAIL for many years and most recently was a guest speaker at the 2013 annual educational conference. He, along with Jonathan Costa, M.D., Ph.D, discussed clinical and legal perspectives on late effects of traumatic brain injury looking at issues such as dementia, depression and progressive personality changes that may not be addressed until 15-20 years post injury. Their presentation was one of the highlights of the conference.

Also some exciting news released this week on Abbott Laboratories and the Defense Department agreeing to a multiyear collaboration to develop portable blood tests to assist in evaluation of acquired brain injuries. It is a $19.5 million contract to assist in identifying certain proteins, or biomarkers, that are released into the blood stream following a brain injury. We will be following the progress of this project which will do so much to allow a quicker and more accurate diagnosis for athletes, military personnel, and anyone who sustains an injury to the brain. Early detection and intervention can make a big difference in rehabilitation and recovery.

For more information or questions, please contact me at gml@nolan-law.com. You may contact the Brain Injury Association of Illinois at 1-800-699-64431-800-699-6443 or visit their website at www.biail.org.

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Sports Concussion and Young Athletes: Illinois Steps Up

Brain Injury, concussion, a bump on the head … no matter what you call an injury to your brain, it can be a very serious matter.  There may, perhaps, be no outward or obvious signs of injury, but there still may be some significant problems down the road.   Also, that second or third “bump”  may be the one that causes life-altering changes both physically, emotionally and cognitively.  There is no doubt that our young athletes, boys and girls alike, are extremely at risk for the types of brain injuries that can literally change their lives forever – or end it.

Those of us in the field of acquired brain injury just completed a very busy and productive March — “Brain Injury Awareness Month”.  Together, with the other Brain Injury Association of America State Affiliates, our focus was educating the community and, in particular, parents, students, coaches and others involved in any kind of sports program, on the dangers of concussion.

Illinois is very fortunate to have two of our legislators introduce a bi-partisan bill that addresses the important issue of sports concussion in young athletes.  Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) introduced House Bill 200, and Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) introduced Senate Bill 150.  The legislation requires all schools to adopt rules pertaining to concussion.  It includes educating parents and coaches on the signs and symptoms of concussion, when to pull an athlete from play, and when those young athletes can return to play.  According to the legislation, a healthcare provider must sign off before return to play.  Brain Injury Association of Illinois Executive Director, Philicia L. Deckard successfully mobilized many of our members and supporters to call their legislators regarding this bill.  What a great job she did and we are very grateful to everyone who participated in this effort.  It’s wonderful to get behind a bill that addresses this incredibly important health concern for our young athletes and it’s an equally wonderful way to celebrate Brain Injury Awareness Month.  We are also very proud of Rep. Cross and Sen. Raoul coming together and elevating the profile of this critical issue. 

Thanks also to the Chicago Bears organization and the ‘85 Super Bowl Champs Richard Dent, Otis Wilson and Kurt Becker who joined both me and Philicia, the legislators, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and others for a press conference on March 11th at Soldier Field.  A photo of us with Ted Phillips, CEO of the Bears, Marty Hickman, IHSA Executive Director, Ken Edmonds, NFL Director of Gov. Relations and Public Policy, Richard Dent, Otis Wilson, and Kurt Becker, Rep. Tom Cross and Sen. Kwame Raoul at the Soldier Field Press Conference as well as a copy of the official press release follows:


clip_image003March 11, 2011

Cross, Raoul team up with the Bears, ’85 Super Bowl Champs
Dent and Becker to pass concussion education legislation

(Chicago) With Soldier Field in Chicago as the backdrop today, Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) team up with 1985 Super Bowl Champs Richard Dent, Otis Wilson and Kurt Becker as well as NFL executives, the Illinois High School Association, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital to push legislation through the Senate that tackles the vital issue of concussion education.

“The sports community has really stepped up to the plate to help us bring awareness to this vitally important issue of concussion education,” said Cross. “With Sen. Raoul’s help and leadership in the Senate we will make concussion education a requirement for our student athletes and their parents.”

“I truly appreciate Leader Cross’s unwavering devotion to raising the profile of concussion education,” said Raoul. “From little league football to the NFL, and all levels and types of sports, we must do what we can in state government to make sure that girls and boys, men and women better protect themselves from potentially life-altering head injuries.”

The legislation aims to require all school boards, including the Chicago Board of Education, to adopt a policy regarding student athlete concussions and head injuries including:

· Requires the policy to be in compliance with the protocols, policies, and by-laws of the IHSA.

· Requires that information on the school board’s concussion and head injury policy be a part of any agreement, contract, code, or other written instrument that a school district requires a student athlete and his or her parents or guardians to sign before participating in practice or interscholastic competition.

· Requires the IHSA to make available to all school districts, including elementary school districts, education materials, such as visual presentations and other written materials that describe the nature and risk of concussions and head injuries.


General Assembly

clip_image003[1]Many current and former professional athletes, top NFL executives, medical professionals, high school representatives and other interested associations are supporting this effort:

"To help protect all NFL players from the dangers of brain and other injuries, I recently joined the Brain Injury Association of Illinois’ Board of Directors to help extend our reach beyond the 1,800 players in NFL locker rooms. The standard set by our league inevitably affects policy at other levels. The advances in diagnosis and treatment of concussions means future generations of athletes will enjoy better long-term health and fewer short-term risks as a result. HB 200 and SB 150 are important legislation that will make the future safer for young athletes all across our state."

– – Hunter Hillenmeyer, an eight year veteran with the Chicago Bears, also served on the NFL Players Association’s TBI Committee and Player Safety and Welfare Committee, Brain Injury Association of Illinois Board Member

"We are proud to support legislation dedicated to educating and protecting athletes at the youth and high school levels. Understanding and preventing concussions in all sports is vital and we commend Leader Cross and Senator Raoul for their leadership on this issue.”

– – Ted Phillips, Chicago Bears’ President and CEO

“The NFL has strict return-to-play guidelines that apply to the best athletes in the world. We believe a similar approach is necessary when dealing with some of the youngest athletes. This legislation does that.”

-Ken Edmonds, NFL Dir. of Gov. Relations and Public Policy

“Educating our girls and boys about the risks and symptoms of concussions in elementary and high school is so important to their overall well being. I am fully supportive of efforts to get that done here in Illinois.”

– – Richard Dent, 1985 Super Bowl MVP and 2011 NFL Hall of Fame inductee

“As a former NFL player and now a high school coach, concussion education at all levels is vitally important. I fully support these efforts to help our student-athletes have a safer experience in all sports.”

-Kurt Becker, 1985 Super Bowl Champion

“I really applaud Tom Cross and Kwame Raoul for their efforts in pushing this bill at the high school level to protect the youngsters as well as educating the parents and coaches on the long-term effects concussions are having. Any baseline tests you can implement for the well being of the student athlete are a must.”

–Mike Ditka, Chairman of the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund

“The proposals under consideration by the General Assembly take important steps toward raising awareness of the seriousness of concussions on our children and providing a layer of protection for our youth athletes. Most importantly, these proposals help to protect our youth athletes from additional harm by preventing their return to practice or play until they are fully recovered. Ultimately, a new athletic culture will be created, one in which all players, parents, coaches and others supervisors know that any symptoms of a brain injury will result in removal from play.”

Dr. Hunt Batjer, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee

“The Illinois High School Association is pleased to work with Representative Tom Cross, Senator Kwame Raoul, and the entire General Assembly on this important legislation. HB 200 will bolster our Association’s efforts to educate and protect the more than 300,000 high school age students who annually participate in interscholastic athletics at their high schools. Our Sports Medicine Committee has provided tremendous guidance in this area and we are well positioned to provide the leadership necessary to enhance our ongoing concussion education and management efforts.”

-Marty Hickman, IHSA Executive Director

“Communication between our physicians, athletic trainers, parents and athletes ensures a safe return to competition. The Sports Medicine team has now evolved to include our legislators who are looking to raise the level of safety awareness regarding these injuries. Educating our parents, coaches, and kids will allow us to break free from the “win at all cost mentality”.

-Steve McInerney, ATC Oswego High School Athletic Director and Governmental Affairs Director for the IATA

“The Illinois Association of Park Districts is committed to disseminating information about this very important health issue.”

-Peter Murphy, Illinois Association of Park Districts’ President and CEO

Chicago City Council Passes Concussion Ordinance

The Chicago City Council passed a new city ordinance on January 13, 2011 addressing sports concussions. Athletes showing signs of concussion will be prohibited from returning to play and/or practice until they are cleared by a licensed health care provider. The rule applies to students at the primary, middle and secondary schools, both public and private school settings. Schools that are found to be in violation of this ordinance would lose their water/sewer exemption from the city. Currently, Chicago Public Schools require that athletes be removed from the field if they show signs of headache, dizziness or loss of memory.

Alderman Ed Burke said “The most important part of this, I believe, is public education.”  He also went on to say that parents need to know that “putting their kid back in the game as quickly as possible after a head injury is a recipe for disaster.” Burke is the Chair of the Finance Committee. Alderman Latasha Thomas said “The City of Chicago needs to take action because coaches and players, due to their competitive spirit, all too often want to play through what appears to be minor injury without it being properly evaluated. Unfortunately such a failure to respond decisively may lead to a serious outcome.” Thomas is the Chair of the Education and Child Development Committee.

The Joint Committee on Finance and Committee on Health and Child Development met the day before in a hearing to discuss the matter of sports concussions. The Brain Injury Association of Illinois provided experts during the hearing to share information. The Brain Injury Association was represented by Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth of The Midwest Center for Concussion Care and Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute. Additional witnesses included Dr. Hunt J. Batjer of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Dr. Daniel Derman of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Dr. Jeffrey Mjaanes of Rush University Medical Center, and Dr. Cynthia LaBella of Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Following yesterday’s meeting, Alderman Burke shared his thoughts with BIA of Illinois Executive Director, Philicia Deckard. He discussed the impact of the legislation and how he hoped it would continue with state legislative activity in Springfield. His brother, Representative Daniel Burke, is currently sponsoring a bill addressing concussions in the Illinois state legislature.

The BIA of Illinois will be looking at the language of the new ordinance to see how it might be used in other communities around the state. Work is already underway with proposed legislation in the Illinois legislature. Injury prevention materials are available through the Brain Injury Association and on the CDC website, www.cdc.gov/concussion.

The Brain Injury Association of Illinois provides information and resources to individuals who have sustained an acquired brain injury, as well as to families, professionals and other members in the community. The BIA of Illinois also provides educational programs, injury prevention, public awareness, summer camp program, advocacy and support programs. For additional information, call (800)699-6443 or e-mail info@biail.org. Visit the

Brain Injury Association of Illinois Awards Dinner Sponsored by Nolan Law Group

The Brain Injury Association of Illinois proudly honored Christopher Nowinski, Co-Founder and President of the Sports Legacy Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis, with the 2010 James Brady Award. The award is given to the person or institution that has made significant contributions to improving the lives of persons with brain injury. The announcement came at the Awards Dinner of the 2010 Educational Conference of the BIAIL, sponsored by Nolan Law Group. Chris is also the Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encelphalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine, and serves on the NFL Players Association Mackey/White TBI Research Committee. He is also a member of the Brain Injury Association of America. A former Harvard football player and WWE professional wrestler, he was forced to retire due to a series of concussions in 2003. His challenging recovery from post-concussion syndrome led him to write the book, Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, in an effort to educate parents, coaches, and children about this previously hidden public health issue. It is a great book and, I believe, a must-read for anyone interested in concussion in sports. His keynote presentation on Saturday morning drew many coaches, young athletes and parents as he explained concussion, signs and symptoms and when it is safe to return to the playing field. He also went over the strategies that must be in place if children are to safely play in athletic programs. Chris is a tireless advocate for concussion prevention in sports and richly deserves this honor.

Other award recipients included the “Make A Difference” Award to Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital for their leadership in development of a Sports Concussion Program, El Valor in Chicago for the outstanding programs and services to people with brain injury and other disabilities, and the Advocate Christ Hospital Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team for their educational efforts with patients and families as well as their work with the BIAIL to raise public awareness of brain injury.

In addition to Chris Nowinski’s presentation, the BIAIL Sports Concussion Clinic, sponsored by Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, featured Marianjoy’s Dr. Patrick Walsh, Director of Psychology and Coordinator of their Brain Injury Program, and Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, neuropsychologist and Head Injury/Concussion Specialist for the Chicago Bears, the Chicago Blackhawks and Northwestern University Athletics.

Solving the Sports Concussion Crisis

Concussion and sports injury has been a major news story this past year — and deservedly, so. Each week we hear about professional athletes as well as young grammar and high school athletes sustaining life-changing brain injuries due to hits on the field. We witness them each time we watch professional sports. Each time I watch a football or hockey game and see players sustain high impact blows to the head, I cringe. I cringe even more when I’ve seen them go right back into the game. After listening to a presentation by Chris Nowinski of the Sports Legacy Institute this past spring, I became even more acutely aware of the dangers to our children who innocently want to emulate their heroes on the playing fields no matter what the sport — football, soccer, basketball, etc. Chris showed a film clip of two little guys playing football and “head-butting”. Can you imagine what’s going on in their delicate brains? Just watching the weak neck movements, I could just imagine how their brains are rolling around and twisting inside their skulls. No, they may not get knocked-out; nor lose consciousness, but something is definitely happening. What will the long term and cumulative effects be?

Sports concussion is not something new and the NFL has certainly been aware of it for a long time. Because of advances in the field of science and brain injury, as well as the passionate and persistent efforts of people like Chris Nowinski and the Brain Injury Association of America and its affiliates, including the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, we know so much more about what’s happening to these athletes and how to prevent these injuries, especially in our younger athletes. Their efforts have educated others and attracted the support of the NFL. Last night on a local Chicago television newscast, some football players were lamenting the new NFL concussion guidelines and rules saying, it’s the “suits” that are doing this to us, and “next thing you know they’ll be making us carry flags.” While I understand their point, I realize that there needs to be so much more education and mind-changing in this area. Everyone thinks it won’t happen to them, but as someone recently pointed out to me, “they signed up for that kind of play and that’s why they’re paid the big bucks!” I think if they knew what was really happening inside their heads and they understood the long-term effects, the “big bucks” might not mean as much to them.

While the NFL has really stepped it up thanks to the persistence of Chris Nowinski and the above-mentioned organizations and others, I’m really gratified with the efforts to educate our kids, parents, and coaches. We have a long way to go — especially to change the culture of athletics. Our kids are worth it, aren’t they?

There is still time to join the Brain Injury Association of Illinois this Saturday, October 23rd at the Drury Lane Conference Center in Oak Brook for our “SPORTS CONCUSSION CLINIC” sponsored by Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton. Our guest keynote speaker is Chris Nowinski, Sports Legacy Institute, presenting, “Solving the Sports Concussion Crisis”. The event is from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Other featured speakers are Dr. Patrick Walsh of the Sports Concussion Program at Marianjoy and Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, Head Injury/Concussion specialist for the Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks and Northwestern’s football team. They will be speaking on “When Is It Safe To Return to Play?”.

For further information, give me a call at 708-945-8360. You may also register at the door that morning. If you have kids in sports, or who play on playgrounds, if you coach kids or just want to know more about this important topic, please consider attending.

Life Coach — Shaping Your Future After Brain Injury

At the Nolan Law Group, advocacy is an important part of our mission. In addition to my work for our law firm, my volunteer position as board chair of the Brain Injury Association of Illinois (BIAIL), as well as board member of the Brain Injury Association of America, affords me many opportunities to act upon that part of our mission.

As part of my volunteer work with the BIAIL, I have the pleasure of bringing brain injury education, as well as information regarding the BIAIL’s programs and services, to various community groups. I enjoy the school and civic organizations that we visit, but I have a special place in my heart for the brain injury support groups from around our state. I just returned from a visit to one such group at a local rehabilitation hospital. In spite of all the challenges and barriers they face, I find most members of these support groups to be quite positive, motivated, and very compassionate and caring towards each other. They are trying to live as fully as possible in spite of their challenges. This group was no exception.

During our discussion on issues and resources related to brain injury, one gentleman talked about the challenges his son faces in making life choices with very limited resources. He used the term “life coach” to express what he believes his son needs in facing the future. I thought that was such an interesting choice of words – “life coach”. It’s a term that probably 10-15 years ago not many had heard of — or at least it was called something different. Today, there are countless self-help books, magazine articles, etc., on these life coaches. Many businesses consult with life coaches to enhance the quality of life, and thus work performance, of their employees. However, the idea of having a “life coach” after sustaining a catastrophic brain injury is an intriguing idea. Someone who is not just interested in getting you employed or “placed” but really helps the person decide what path may lead them to the greatest life satisfaction possible. Having been in rehabilitation for many years, I can confidently say that most of the rehab team members I’ve known and worked with are life coaches of sorts. That type of team spirit and support is what attracted me to, and kept me in, brain injury rehabilitation for so many years.

The gentleman at the support group, with great passion and eloquence, went on to explain what so many others touched by brain injury feel — how does one make the right choices for the future when choices and resources are limited? Also, a person after a severe brain injury, really may not be too sure who they are anymore. What do you do when you’ve completed your therapies and rehab, but are not able, be it cognitively or physically, to go back to what you may have been doing before? Many of us, especially in this economy, can relate. Millions of Americans are in the process of “re-inventing” themselves due to changed family circumstances, job loss, or simply, dissatisfaction with previous life choices. This devoted dad went on to explain that he did not feel qualified to make those choices for his son. “What if I steer him in the wrong direction?” he asked. “Do I just point him in a direction and hope for the best? When he stated that he felt too close to the situation to even offer an opinion, nearly all of the family members present indicated that was exactly how they felt.

The support group leader offered that a life coach is one who asks the right questions and is definitely not someone who just points you in a direction and hopes for the best. It is someone who is not afraid to give you honest feedback and hopes that you’re ready to receive it. It is someone who can offer you some choices that may give you the best chance for life satisfaction. In our quest to provide our patients with individualized and appropriate services and direction, those of us in the field of rehab have struggled with the many constraints and barriers we face from the various payor sources, government programs, etc. Most team members I’ve worked with routinely expressed frustration with the so-called “system” that puts up some of those barriers. Other barriers come from society and our own attitudes towards disability. There are people out there that just don’t want to give someone a chance, or are afraid, or unwilling, to make the accommodations necessary to at least give someone an opportunity to try. It is also important for the person with brain injury to be as open as possible to options, suggestions and, especially, support of those around them. As the specialty of brain injury has evolved, so have our perspectives on what someone may or may not be able to achieve. From my own experience, I’ve seen countless people who were told they would never be able to do something again, prove that statement wrong — and in a big way! The ability of people to rise above their circumstances always amazes me. In my own support group, each month someone tells us that they were supposed to be a “vegetable” (and, oh, how I hate that word!) but asks us, “Do I look like a vegetable to you?” We all laugh but know exactly what is meant. Some support group members talked about seeing a job coach or vocational counselor. Any sort of employment or placement, for any length of time, may be considered a so-called “success”. Is it, though? Not many in the support group I attended that evening thought so.

This particular group gave me food for thought. Look for BIAIL to be addressing this “life coach” issue at a future educational conference. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to bringing it up with my own support group to get their views. I believe it’s a great idea and something for all of us who are advocates for persons with disabilities, brain injury or otherwise, to ponder. Brain injury is for the rest of your life and those we serve deserve to live each day to the fullest and with the greatest satisfaction possible.

Prevention Is For All Seasons

In the not so distant past, those of us in the brain injury community used to hear “prevention is the only cure.” What we have learned about the brain and recovery in recent years has been nothing short of astonishing. Advanced imaging techniques, stem cell research, new therapies and treatments, have given us so much hope in preventing and minimizing injury as well as promoting recovery from brain injury. Still, learning how to prevent or minimize injury to the brain is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and those we love. Most of us are accustomed to hearing prevention campaigns during the spring and summer. It’s important to remember that prevention is for all seasons.

A few days ago I asked my two nephews how they were spending the last few days of their holiday vacation. The response was an enthusiastic, “snowboarding!” Of course, as you might imagine, my next question was, “Are you wearing your helmets?” They looked at each other and (with a somewhat quizzical and mildly guilty tone) responded, “No” — but quickly added, “We wear them when we ride our bikes!” I almost knew what their answer would be and was quick to explain how important it is to protect your head and brain when engaging in any activity that puts you at risk for falls or a bump on the head. Wearing a helmet is not just for bike rides in the summer. While I wasn’t aware that they received snowboards for Christmas, I was especially concerned about safety in light of the recent news of Kevin Pearce, the champion snowboarder who is hospitalized in critical condition after sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury while preparing for the qualifying events for the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver. Kevin is obviously a well trained and well equipped athlete, and accidents happen — especially at the professional level where the risks are much greater. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, falls are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries in the U.S., and helmets are 85% effective in reducing the risk of brain injury. It is important to remember, whether engaging in professional sports or just having some recreational fun, we must take every precaution to protect our brains.

Snowboarding, skiing, sledding, — these and many other winter activities offer the well trained, as well as the casual participant, a great deal of fun and enjoyment. Remembering to be well equipped with the right protective gear, including a properly fitted helmet, is a must if you want to minimize your risk of injury. My nephews knew that it’s important to wear a helmet when riding a bike — that message came through loud and clear. Let’s continue to spread the word and reinforce the message that any activity that puts your brain at risk, no matter what the season or sport, is worth “gearing up” for!

For more information and resources on brain injury prevention, please visit the following websites: Brain Injury Association of Illinois, www.biail.org., Brain Injury Association of America, www.biausa.org, and ThinkFirst, www.thinkfirst.org.

Brain Injury- Let’s Talk

Welcome to the first entry on “Neuro Notes”. It is a pleasure to have a venue in which to keep our friends up to date on what we’re doing at Nolan Law Group to add quality to the lives of those it is our mission to serve. We also intend for this to be another way to let you know what’s going on in the field of acquired brain injury. Having spent more than 25 years in the field of rehabilitation nursing, with a focus on acquired brain injury, I continue to be amazed at how little the general public knows about prevention and recognition of a so-called “mild” brain injury.

I just returned from a national leadership meeting of the Brain Injury Association of America and while I was at the airport in San Antonio wearing my “Brain Injury Association of Illinois” jacket, an airport vendor laughed when she said her son had a brain injury. She proceeded to tell me, again in a joking manner, that he was an incorrigible teenager and it must have been because of that fall off a bunk bed when he was eight years old. “Should have taken him to the doctor … never been the same since!” she continued. What concerned me was that she was clearly uncomfortable talking about a “brain injury” but deep down she knew that was the cause of what apparently is a personality change, at the very least, with her son. Encounters like this happen frequently when someone knows I am in the field of brain injury. We are uncomfortable saying the words “brain injury” especially when referring to ourselves or those we love.

We are living in a time when we know so much more about the brain. Our law firm was one of the first to understand how important it is to bring technology into the courtroom to “prove” an injury to a jury. There are answers — diagnostic tools, treatments and resources. There are also many professionals in the field who know and understand the uniqueness that is a brain injury. However, I will be the first to say that there are not enough resources and much more needs to be done. While the numbers of new brain injuries have decreased over the past 25 years with the use of seat belts, helmets, etc., there are still far too many. Consider this – the number of people living in Illinois with disability related to acquired brain injury equals the combined populations of the cities of Champaign and Rockford. Something else to consider — those are just the ones that have been reported.

Through my years of experience as a rehabilitation nurse working with persons with brain injury and other neurological disorders, and through my work as an advocate with the Brain Injury Association of Illinois as well as the Brain Injury Association of America, I hope to make more people more comfortable saying the words “brain injury”. I also hope to make more people aware of just how serious this epidemic is but also how hopeful we can all be. As Philicia Deckard, Executive Director of the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, always says, “We can’t have too many people talking about brain injury!” She’s quite right — the more we talk about brain injury, the more we get to know those who are on that journey and the more we really understand the issues.

Brain injury concerns all of us, as we are all at risk. Each day we get into the car, each day a child is on the playground, on a skateboard, or on a football or soccer field, each day we that we find ourselves just living our lives with the risk of an unexpected fall or bump on the head, we are at risk for an injury that could change our lives or the lives of those we love forever.

For more information, questions or comments, please contact me at gml@nolan-law.com.

Also, please check out the Brain Injury Association of Illinois for further information and resources, including support groups, at their website: www.biail.org. You can also follow the Brain Injury Association of Illinois on Facebook at www.facebook.com/biaofil.